The COVID-19 pandemic offered a dose of reality to many businesses dependent on international supply chains. With manufacturers shutting down due to employee illness or an abundance of concern over employee health, the interdependency of companies providing raw materials through to final production became apparent. Often taking for granted that the product pipeline would be full of deliverables, some companies were faced with shortages at critical times in their production cycles. Enter the stocking distributor partner. Stocking distributors provide a buffer between inconsistencies in supplier deliverables and production deadlines. Forward thinking companies highlight their critical component requirements and arrange for a distributor to hold inventory on their shelves, particularly if those critical components are sole sourced or minimally sourced. The stocking distributor provides devices “just in time” but with the flexibility to adapt to changes in requirements. Specialty distributors have an advantage over larger, broad line distributors in that they can support end customers with inside information pertinent to their business. Because specialty distributors have fewer suppliers to contend with, their logistics experts can dive deeper into the technology and form better relationships with supplier teams, becoming an integral part of the supplier’s sales channel. As they’re part of the supplier’s team, product information, such as logistics, new product information, and obsolescence, is shared openly, allowing the specialty distributor to pass along useful and important details. At the same time, the specialty distributor analyzes trends and aggregates information from a large pool of customers designing state-of-the-art products. That information is helpful to suppliers making decisions on their next wave of new component designs.
Specialized distributors, with more focused product management and field sales engineers, generally have smaller teams operating at diverse locations. The reduced infrastructure allows these companies to maintain low overhead and, in the case of the recent COVID-19 outbreak, allowed them to function “almost” unhindered because many of the logistics and support people were already working remotely. For example, RFMW, a leading distributor of RF and Microwave components, has a central location in North America housing logistics and warehouse operations and also has warehousing in Europe and Asia to support global companies. Because RFMW supplies components critical to both medical and defense related applications, their operations were deemed “essential” and the company continues to remain open during the pandemic. Warehouse personnel, equipped with proper personal protective equipment, are allowed to continue operations at all locations. Minimal supervisory oversight was required, so most employees not already working from home offices transitioned to a home office, supporting other, critically essential customers. Even design consultation continues using on-line meeting programs where design engineers can discuss and even show their products and schematics while working with field application engineers and device designers from the various suppliers providing building blocks. In many cases, it has been possible to arrange online meetings with device designers, who typically do not travel, and program managers, whose schedules are generally so filled with travel they are difficult to schedule. Specialized distributors can coordinate these valuable meetings because they are part of the suppliers’ sales channel and part of a trusted team who understands the needs of the customer and the value of supplier team members.
Whether in normal or unpredictable times, component distributors and, in particular, specialized distributors offer many advantages to customers looking for reliable component availability, new products, technology information, or samples to support their designs.